The well-known journalist was speaking up for part-time study as she takes over as the new president of Birkbeck, University of London.
Baroness Bakewell said she will be championing the part-time sector after figures published last month showed student numbers have dropped by 40 per cent since 2010.
“Part-time study and flexible learning are going to play a big part in the future of our society,” she told the Times Higher Education.
“It improves skills and kick-starts new careers – exactly what we need for the economy, employers and individuals during these difficult economic times,” she said.
“With a dramatic downturn in part-time students, unprecedented support is needed now to ensure part-time study thrives.
“I think it is very important to keep the pressure up on government. I certainly intend to be vocal.”
Baroness Bakewell, who has recently been a champion for pensioners, said she hoped to raise awareness about part-time study with older people.
“Learning goes right through the generations. It is not age-specific and it should be an aspiration at any time in your life,” she said.
“Part-time study is an amazing opportunity, particularly because many part-time students can now access loans for tuition fees.
“Older people need to know the opportunities are there and I hope to spread that message.”
Baroness Bakewell, who turns 80 next week, was elected to the honorary and ceremonial role of president by Birkbeck’s governors, succeeding the late Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm – who taught Baroness Bakewell while she was a history student at the University of Cambridge in the 1950s.
“He was an extraordinary man with a great mind. I was very lucky to have one-to-one tuition with him,” Baroness Bakewell said. “He adored Birkbeck and it too was devoted to him.”
She said she shared Professor Hobsbawm’s belief that Birkbeck provided unique opportunities for people to study in London.
“There is a vast segment of people who haven’t had the opportunity to access university and there needs to be greater appreciation of this,” she said.
“Birkbeck is well-placed to answer the needs of what is increasingly a very flexible workforce.”
David Latchman, master of Birkbeck, said: “We are delighted to welcome Baroness Joan Bakewell as president of Birkbeck at this historic and critical moment for the university sector.
“She is a passionate supporter of part-time higher education and non-traditional students, and brings her valuable experience as a journalist and campaigner to this important role.
“We look forward to working with Joan to continue to promote the all-important, but neglected, benefits of flexible evening study to students, employers, the economy and society.”